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Who remembers as a teenager, scouring through the pages of Dolly Doctor looking for reassurance that your body was ‘normal’?
When it comes to your body and its functions, the desire to feel normal doesn’t necessarily fade as you get older. According to Dr Michela Sorensen, a GP and women’s health expert, there are certain bodily functions that women commonly fear aren’t working as they should (but usually are).
“There’s no such thing as a normal body,” Michela explains. “Discussing with friends and those close to us about our experience is helpful, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that what is going on in our body is abnormal.
“But if you do have concerns or you’re unsure whether what you’re experiencing is abnormal, don’t be embarrassed about it. Chat to your doctor – there’s absolutely no silly question.”
Here, she identifies the five areas women ask her about most often.
Most women know how important it is to check their breasts for abnormalities that could indicate the presence of breast cancer, but Michela says they don’t always know what constitutes a problem.
“What women often say to me is, ‘All of my breast feels lumpy. Is this normal?’ It is quite common for it to all feel quite lumpy. For some women it is because they’ve got lots of cysts, for other women, it’s just their breast tissue.”
The key to distinguishing ‘normal lumpiness’ from abnormalities, she says, is to identify anything new. In other words: “A change from what you may have felt before, but also an area that feels different from everything else around it.”
First things first, vaginal discharge is completely normal and plays an important function – it’s a fluid that keeps your vagina clean and free of infections. The amount, colour and consistency that appears in underwear varies between each woman, Michela says, and will fluctuate during your cycle.
“If your discharge is distinctly different from what you have experienced throughout previous cycles, for example an unusual colour, smell or consistency, it is important to get it checked out,” she says.
It’s normal to lose between 50 and 100 strands of hair from your head a day
It’s normal to lose between 50 and 100 strands of hair from your head a day, and Michela says at certain times you may notice more hair loss than you used to. This can be a result of stress, having a baby, recovering from an illness or thyroid issues. Hormonal fluctuations often play a role, too.
“My rule of thumb is: if it’s coming out in big clumps or you’re noticing patches of balding on your scalp for, say, a month or so that’s a sign that it may not be just normal hair loss,” Michela says.
When it comes to periods, what’s normal for you in terms of frequency, volume and cramping may be abnormal for the next person. However, if you experience changes to your ‘normal’, it might be worth seeing your GP.
“If, say, you always had on-the-dot, 28-day cycles that lasted for five days, and then all of a sudden, you start getting bleeding in the middle of your period, or you start missing periods, that would be a sign that maybe there’s something underlying,” Michela says.
Experiencing heavy bleeding, irregular bleeding, debilitating pain with periods or chronic pelvic pain even when you don’t have your period can be indicators of endometriosis, a condition that affects one in 10 Aussie women.
Like so many bodily functions, normality in bowel movements will differ between individuals. This could be minor differences in colour, texture, shape and frequency.
“Normal can be anything from going to the toilet three times a day versus once every three days and anything in between,” says Michela.
Your poo should be firm and moist – diarrhoea or constipation could indicate a problem. And if your bowel movements are causing discomfort, containing blood or involving changes that don’t resolve within a couple of days, see your doctor.
If you still have concerns about your body, the first port of call should be making an appointment with your GP to get personalised advice. Finding a great GP can be tough, which is why at nib, we offer our Find a Provider search tool. This tool allows you to search for health professionals near you and we’ll provide you with their contact details and location – all in one convenient location.
If you’re heading to your GP for a check-up, it could be a good opportunity to find out what other examinations you might be due for.
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.